Wednesday Aug 11, 2021
KABUL: Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan's capital in 30 days and possibly take control of it in 90, a US defence official said Wednesday, citing US intelligence.
The official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the new assessment of how long Kabul could stand was a result of the Taliban's rapid gains as US-led foreign forces leave.
"But this is not a foregone conclusion," the official added, saying that the Afghan security forces could reverse the momentum by putting up more resistance.
The Taliban now control 65% of Afghanistan and have taken or warn of taking over 11 provincial capitals, a senior EU official said on Tuesday. Faizabad, in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, on Wednesday became the eighth provincial capital to be taken over by the Taliban.
All gateways to Kabul, which lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, were choked with civilians entering the city and fleeing the ongoing fight between the Afghan forces and the Taliban soldiers, a Western security source there told Reuters.
Foreign countries are trying to ensure their staff leave Kabul quickly, five foreign security officials told Reuters. One said international airlines were also being asked to evacuate staff.
President Ashraf Ghani flew to Mazar-i-Sharif to rally old warlords to the defence of the biggest city in the north as Taliban forces closed in.
Jawad Mujadidi, a provincial council member from Badakhshan, said the Taliban had laid siege to Faizabad before launching an offensive on Tuesday.
"With the fall of Faizabad, the whole of the northeast has come under Taliban control," Mujadidi told Reuters.
The Taliban want to defeat the US-backed government and reimpose their rule. The speed of their advance has shocked the government and its allies.
US President Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland, saying on Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw. He said Washington had spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of US troops.
The United States was providing significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces, he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment on Wednesday about assessments that Kabul could soon be overtaken by the Taliban. "We are closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country, but no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable," she said.
The United States will complete the withdrawal of its forces this month in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan from being used for international terrorism. Psaki said the timeline holds and reiterated the administration's view that Afghan forces have the US support they need to fight back.
The Afghans "need to determine [...] if they have the political will to fight back and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back," she said.